Domini loved this life with a love which had already become a passion. All that she had imagined that the desert might be to her she found that it was. In its so-called monotony she discovered eternal interest. Of old she had thought the sea the most wonderful thing in Nature. In the desert she seemed to possess the sea with something added to it, a calm, a completeness, a mystical tenderness, a passionate serenity. She thought of the sea as a soul striving to fulfil its noblest aspirations, to be the splendid thing it knew how to dream of. But she thought of the desert as a soul that need strive no more, having attained. And she, like the Arabs, called it always in her heart the Garden of Allah. For in this wonderful calm, bright as the child’s idea of heaven; clear as a crystal with a sunbeam caught in it, silent as a prayer that will be answered silently, God seemed to draw very near to His wandering children. In the desert was the still, small voice, and the still, small voice was the Lord.
Often at dawn or sundown, when, perhaps in the distance of the sands, or near at hand beneath the shade of the palms of some oasis by a waterspring, she watched the desert men in their patched rags, with their lean, bronzed faces and eagle eyes turned towards Mecca, bowing their heads in prayer to the soil that the sun made hot, she remembered Count Anteoni’s words, “I like to see men praying in the desert,” and she understood with all her heart and soul why. For the life of the desert was the most perfect liberty that could be found on earth, and to see men thus worshipping in liberty set before her a vision of free will upon the heights. When she thought of the world she had known and left, of the men who would always live in it and know no other world, she was saddened for a moment. Could she ever find elsewhere such joy as she had found in the simple and unfettered life of the wastes? Could she ever exchange this life for another life, even with Androvsky?
One day she spoke to him of her intense joy in the wandering fate, and the pain that came to her whenever she thought of exchanging it for a life of civilisation in the midst of fixed groups of men.
They had halted for the noonday rest at a place called Sidi-Hamdam, and in the afternoon were going to ride on to a Bordj called Mogar, where they meant to stay two or three days, as Batouch had told them it was a good halting place, and near to haunts of the gazelle. The tents had already gone forward, and Domini and Androvsky were lying upon a rug spread on the sand, in the shadow of the grey wall of a traveller’s house beside a well. Behind them their horses were tethered to an iron ring in the wall. Batouch and Ali were in the court of the house, talking to the Arab guardian who dwelt there, but their voices were not audible by the well, and absolute silence reigned, the intense yet light silence that is in the desert at noontide, when the sun is at the zenith,